American Jaguars

Jaguar Conservation in America

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
                                       ― Theodore Roosevelt 

Conservation CATalyst at the forefront of American jaguar research

History of American jaguars

El Jefe, America’s famous lone jaguar, has been roaming the mountain wilderness south of Tucson since 2011. Although El Jefe is the most recent and perhaps the most famous, iconic American jaguar, he represents only the latest chapter in a long, storied history of jaguars in the United States.

The first Anglo report of jaguars in the American southwest came in 1827, and documented sightings and reports continued throughout the 19th century. From 1900-2016, there were 64 verified or Class 1 records of individual jaguars from Arizona, and all but three of these jaguars were subsequently killed. Up until 1963, seven known female jaguars were killed in Arizona. Female jaguars represent 23% of the jaguars killed whose sex was known and recorded. Interestingly, four of those seven females were killed in high elevation conifer habitat, and two of the seven were actively raising cubs.  For each of these verified records, there are numerous additional accounts that could not be verified by hide or photograph and thus cannot be scientifically tallied.

Conservation CATalyst staff began researching American jaguars in 2001. We have been on the forefront of surveying, monitoring, and gathering data on Arizona jaguars since 2012.  We are currently the only scientific organization monitoring jaguars in the United States. Our scat detection dog, Mayke, holds the distinction of having located and identified the first genetically confirmed wild jaguar scats on U.S. soil. We are dedicated to continuing this effort until we see our greatest predator once again gain a foothold in our American forests.

This research is of vital importance. As jaguars continue to disperse from Sonora northward into the United States, it is essential that individuals are identified and scientifically documented.  Jaguars here are not merely “accidental wanderers”.  In fact, habitat in Arizona may be changing in a way that is more favorable to jaguars and ocelots than it was 100 years ago. As grasslands are increasingly overtaken by mesquite trees due to a variety of land management strategies, there is an increasing amount of cover that cats use to move and hunt. Many other Neotropical mammals including javelina, coatis, hog-nosed skunks, Mexican brown-nosed opposums, and ocelots have been documented expanding their range northward in recent decades. Why wouldn’t the jaguar follow this same pattern? We must continue monitoring the mountains of southern Arizona for all of these species, especially our endangered spotted cats.

Saving American Jaguars

Jaguars are the New World’s only native “Big Cat” (or member of the genus Panthera) which includes tigers, lions, and leopards. Jaguars once ranged as far north as the Mogollon Rim, in what are now Tonto, Kaibab, and Prescott National Forests and Grand Canyon National Park. What other species, having once been extirpated from an entire region, and having returned under its own power and volition, is then written off as biologically insignificant, or is deemed expendable because there are other jaguars in South America?

Arizona also has bald eagles. Are they unimportant because there are eagles in Alaska?  Is their habitat expendable because it doesn’t look like eagle habitat in Canada? Why the double standard with our one and only Big Cat?  If we wanted to recover jaguars here within our nation’s borders, it could be done. Environmental movements always start from the ground up with people compelling their government to respond. The United States has always set the standard for species recovery, and the rest of the world still takes notice.  We lead by example. So if we don’t care, then why should anyone else?

Please join us in our efforts to save our great American jaguar.

Jaguars in the Santa Rita Mountains

The first known jaguar killed in the Santa Rita Mountains was in 1858. Starting in 1918, four jaguars were killed in four years in the Santa Ritas. One of these animals was an adult female, which would effectively constitute a population of jaguars in the same mountain range occupied by El Jefe today. We know from following El Jefe that the Santa Ritas can support at least one jaguar, and history tells us that they have supported even more.

We are delighted to announce the arrival of yet another
new  jaguar
in Arizona
(March 2017)

Another new jaguar has been photographed in southeast Arizona, the third detected in the state in the past year and a half. The animal was captured on a Bureau of Land Management trail camera in the Dos Cabezas Mountains, about 60 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Conservation CATalyst’s Plan to Conserve American Jaguars
Jaguar populations are the most vulnerable at the northernmost extreme of their range.  Although jaguars used to breed and reproduce right here in Arizona, individuals found in Arizona today likely dispersed from Sonora, Mexico.  If we would like to see jaguars recolonize their former range here in Arizona, we must ensure that the core population in Sonora will thrive and persist into the future. Sonoran jaguars are the foundation for jaguar recovery in the United States.

Conservation CATalyst has created the following concise 3-point plan to conserve American jaguars:

    1.  Protect jaguars in Sonora Mexico from poaching and retaliatory killing over livestock conflicts.
        These jaguars serve as the breeding source for American jaguars.   
    2. Maintain connectivity of habitat along the Arizona-Mexican border for wildlife. This allows
        jaguars and their prey to disperse and move naturally back and forth across this portion of their
        geographic range.

    3. Protect American jaguar critical habitat in the United States from industrial mining activities
       such as Hudbay’s Rosemont Copper Mine, Arizona Mining’s Hermosa Project, and other foreign
       open-pit developments.

These 3 steps on their own would ensure a consistent presence of jaguars in the United States. However, if we are serious about restoring this charismatic cat to its native range, the best way to catalyze the recovery effort would be to translocate a few females into southern Arizona. Intuitively, reintroduction seems like the logical next step towards recovery. Unfortunately, this option is not yet being explored by USFWS.

Please help Conservation CATalyst make a difference for American jaguars.
"In the long term, the economy and the environment are the same thing. If it's unenvironmental it is uneconomical. That is the rule of nature."
-Mollie Beattie 
former USFWS Director

We are thrilled to announce the arrival of a
young male jaguar
in Arizona
(December 2016)

Although he is the first jaguar to be documented in the Huachuca Mountains, this range has always been considered jaguar habitat. This individual is part of a greater population primarily found in Northern Sonora. His arrival demonstrates how little we know about northern jaguars, particularly in Arizona.

Conservation CATalyst's American jaguar research is featured as the cover story of the October 2016 Smithsonian.  

Click here to read the article

Fun Facts about Jaguars
Jaguars are genetically very close to African lions.

Jaguars are the only New World member of the genus Panthera, a genus that includes roaring cats such as tigers, lions, and leopards.

Modern jaguars likely descended from the extinct European jaguar that crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Asia into North America.

Modern jaguars historically ranged as far north as the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Hunting, trapping and poisoning were primary factors in the extirpation of the jaguar from most of the American Southwest.

From 1900-2016, there were 64 verified records of individual jaguars from Arizona. Most of these jaguars were killed by humans.

 60% of jaguar records from the U.S. came from 1900-1925. This period of time was probably the biggest downfall of jaguars in our country.

 Starting in the late 1910’s, 4 jaguars were killed in 4 years in the Santa Rita Mountains of AZ. One of these was an adult female.

About a quarter of all the historic jaguars killed in the U.S. (of known sex) were female. Some were actively raising cubs.

There is currently only one known jaguar in the United States, but since the mid 1990’s new jaguars have appeared in AZ roughly every 3-5 years.

Jaguars are not picky eaters. Their natural prey includes anything from frogs and turtles to javelina and deer.

Jaguars may have the strongest pound-for-pound bite force in the cat family.

Jaguars have a unique killing style among the cats; they crush the skull of their prey with a quick and powerful bite.

Jaguars, like other roaring cats, can communicate over long distances using infrasound, a low frequency soundwave not audible to humans.

Jaguar cubs are raised by their mother for about 18-24 months, after which they must venture out to find their own territory.
We are deeply grateful to the following groups & individuals for making this work possible:
The Center for Biological Diversity
Ted & Rebecca Crosby
Neils Family